In a single 24-hour period the term “Trumpism” went from being a description to a pejorative.
Americans increasingly learn what they know from what they see. Many still can’t seem to grasp the Covid-19 threat, partly because it is not visible and must be confirmed in a lab. The threat seems abstract, hence not quite real. A hoax, perhaps. This principle of using a simple-minded visual guide for all that matters operates in many spheres of life, and even for all of us in the vivid images of delight in the chaos that motivated the mob at the Capitol.
All were white, and clearly delighted with the mayhem created in spaces most of us think of as sacred.
He started his administration on the Capitol steps four years ago ominously invoking the theme of “American carnage.” Almost to the day it will end, his proxies gave us a representation of what that can look like. In a single 24-hour period the term “Trumpism” went from being a description to a pejorative. As its supporters violated the our grandest government building, we saw its face in ways we will never forget: some costumed as warriors, most seemingly aggrieved by a complex world they don’t understand. Others expressed the feeling that they have been pushed to the margins. All were white, and clearly delighted with the mayhem created in spaces most of us think of as sacred.
Trump has stood for very little beyond a virulent nationalism, focusing mostly on an unflagging sense of self-regard. He built his Presidency on the sand of his carefully combed visage, as well as a constant rhetoric of grievances. And it paid off, at least for a while. As Senator Cory Booker noted in one of the best of the delayed January 6 speeches in the Senate, Trump supporters seem to be part of a cult, carrying flags emboldened with a person’s name rather than a more inclusive symbol of hopeful values.
Watching the demonstrators milling around the Capitol, I was struck by the fact they seemed to have little to say; no argument to make, no ideal to uphold. “USA! USA!” and “Take back the steal” was heard most often. I’ve noticed the same pattern in other rallies. Holding a banner or flag is the thing. There appeared to be no war to protest, no law to challenge, no congressional action to dispute. They were there mostly to simply witness for Donald J. Trump: a real-estate speculator turned into a cult figure.
Sometimes a person comes up with the right words at just the right time: the result of good timing, a sense of irony, and an apparent simplicity that may yield a deeper truth.
Responses to others can be kind or cutting, playful or hurtful. They are at their worst when one of the parties can hide behind anonymity. One effect is that our political climate has become coarser and more toxic. It doesn’t help that our President seems to have no sense of humor.
Here are just a few favorites of the whittier kind heard from politicians, past and present, residing on both sides of the Atlantic.
Presidential candidate Cory Booker is frequently asked about race as a factor in the current political climate. One recent response: “I’ve had lots of crazy things said to me, like, ‘Is America ready for another black president?’ And I’m confident it’s never been asked of a white candidate, ‘Is America ready for another white president?’”
[Nancy Astor and Winston Churchill had a notoriously rocky relationship in and out of the British House of Commons. Both were sharp witted and ready for a quick retort.] Churchill once asked her for some advice on how to proceed in the House of Commons. She responded with a simple “Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?”In another exchange that supposedly took place at a party, Lady Astor said to Churchill, “If you were my husband, I’d poison your tea,”to which he responded, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.”
[In a recent exchange in Parliament the loquacious MP Anna Soubry dressed down government minister Michael Gove over his support of Brexit. She ended her statement with a pointed question, to which Gove responded,] “The right Honorable lady is a distinguished criminal barrister. Now I know what it is like to be cross-examined by her. But I also understand why Lawyers are paid by the hour.”
[President Obama loved to work with writers to come up with quips for the Annual White House Correspondents Dinner. He seemed to enjoy sparring with journalists, perhaps because he was a successful writer before assuming the Presidency. He also relished quips playing off of absurd Republican assertions about his personal history.] A favorite: ”These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be.”
And there’s also this: ”The fact is I really do respect the press. I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be President; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
John Kennedy won the presidential election in 1960 by a close margin. Charges during the campaign that his wealthy father was rigging the result led to this observation by Kennedy, delivered in his usual understated style: “I just received the following wire from my generous Daddy: ‘Dear Jack, Don’t buy a single vote more than is necessary. I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for a landslide.'”